Word puzzles could use more kicking, punching, and eye-gouging. At least, this is the philosophy behind Bookworm Heroes, PopCap’s newest free-to-play game in the Bookworm series. Whereas the original Bookworm focused on a single player experience, Bookworm Heroes is an entirely head-to-head game that pits you against random opponents or Facebook friends in asynchronous gameplay.
The game plays like a mashup of word and fighting games. Each match is comprised of a jumble of letters, your avatar, and your opponent’s avatar. During your round, you must search the jumble for the longest word you can find. The letters of the word do not need to connect, so the entire board is available to you. Once your word is submitted, the points you earn are translated into attacks, which your avatar dishes out on against your opponent. The match ends when one character loses all of his or her life points. Bookworm Heroes uses asynchronous multiplayer, which means you can pick up and play your round at your convenience.
The game gets slightly more complicated with the addition of different tiles, which can boost your points or your avatar’s health. You also have the option of different avatars, each of which have their own styles of play. For instance, Lex, the titular bookworm, regains health when certain criteria are met. Shakespeare’s Hamlet, on the other hand, can shoot ink over your opponent’s tiles to obscure the letters. You can also get pets, who will accompany you during your game. Pets have abilities that can be activated at key moments to give you the advantage.
Since Bookworm Heroes is free to play, everything operates using the game’s currency. “Hiring” a character to do battle for you and getting a pet will cost you coins, as will starting a new game. Luckily, you earn coins after each round, the amount of which is dependent on your points earned. However, this does mean that fans of Bookworm Heroes may find themselves running low on coins if they have too many games going at once.
Bookworm Heroes may aspire to be a word and fighting game in a way, but the fighting aspect could use some work. Once you have selected and submitted your word, your character will leap into action and strike at your opponent. Rather than being cute or humorous, these animations look stiff and your character lifeless.
There is also a small audience for this game, or so the online matchings would have us believe. We tried to play Bookworm Heroes using Facebook, but found no one else playing it. When using the random matchup feature, most of the matchups were dead-ends; our randomly selected opponent never played us back. We played a few matches to completion, but it doesn’t have the jumping, excited audience that an asynchronous game like this needs to thrive. We hope that this audience will grow soon.
Bookworm Heroes is a solid word game for players looking to challenge their friends, but there are certainly other word games out there with a more robust audience, like Scrabble and Letterpress. The game does feature several ways to play, with the use of different avatars and pets, but the basic gameplay isn’t anything all that new or challenging. For a free game, it’s certainly worth a shot, but fans may have to spend a few actual dollars to keep all their games going.